One of the most well-known and controversial power stations in New Zealand is celebrating a milestone.
The Manapōuri hydro power station, described as one of New Zealand’s largest engineering achievements, is in the midst of half a century celebrations.
It’s built underground beneath granite rock in Fiordland National Park, supplying electricity directly to Tiwai Point aluminium smelter near Bluff, some 150 kilometres away.
“We missed out on the 50 celebration last year because of Covid so this year we are inviting back a lot of the old construction workers,” says Manapōuri site manager Blair Falconer.
Owner Meridian Energy is opening the gates and welcoming back the original tunnellers and miners who made it all happen.
“To go in there today and to see it so pristine…. it's just unbelievable compared to what it was,” says original contractor Murray Jones.
Construction began in 1964 amid controversy at the time around raising the lake levels to power the station dropped.
The station became fully operational by 1972.
“It brought back a lot of memories, some good ones but some sad ones because we lost a few guys down there,” says former contractor Ken Arnold.
Sixteen people lost their lives on the job, working in harsh conditions.
Jure Mercap worked on the station at the time.
“There was a lot of water, a lot of noise, a lot of hard work,” he says.
“We didn't have any earmuffs and when you were working down the face of the tunnel it was like sign language, you know, because you couldn’t really hear for the noise.”
However, the station has grown over the years — a second tailrace tunnel was built in 2002.
And with Tiwai Point winding down, the station may be used for other projects like green hydrogen and data centres in Southland.